20 Oct 2014

Do what your council says – or pay £100 fine

Public space botherers beware: from today, councils have new powers to crack down on anti-social behaviour – and police can enforce it with £100 fines. Here’s how it works.

Street drinking in Cardiff (G)

Police forces up and down the country have been heralding the new anti-social hehaviour act, which comes into force on Monday, as something that will empower victims of anti-social behaviour and give the community more of a voice.

But some campaigners. including the Manifesto Club, have claimed that the new public spaces protection orders (or PSPOs) could be used to ban rough sleeping, ball games and busking.

The new bill itself is very wide ranging, and covers everything from forced marriages to extradition. But the bit concerning anti-social behaviour specifically condenses 19 existing rules into six more flexible powers:

  • Public spaces protection order (PSPO)
  • Civil injunctions, or “crimbos” which will replace the Asbo, and come into effect until next year
  • Criminal behaviour orders (CBO)
  • Community protection notices
  • Closure of premises powers
  • Dispersal powers

The government brought in the new laws in an attempt to make sure community problems can be dealt with faster and more directly. They allow organisations like housing providers, councils or local authorities, as well as police, to have more power to tackle anti-social behaviour themselves. But it also lets councils decide what behaviour they want to ban.

They dangerously blur distinctions between crime and nuisance, fast tracking people into the criminal justice system Rachel Robinson, Liberty

Another major change is the introduction of a “community trigger”, which means that if residents complain about anti-social behaviour three times within six months, the relevant authorities have a duty to investigate. They might decide not to do anything: but they will now be obliged, at the very least, to look into it and make a decision.

Public space

The PSPOs are about banning certain behaviour from specific public areas like parks, or town centres – and fining people up to £100 on the spot if they don’t comply.

“Public space protection orders are designed to ensure that public spaces are not affected by anti-social behaviour so law-abiding people can use and enjoy them,” said Crime Prevention Minister Norman Baker.

The behaviour needs to pass a test before the coucil makes the order in consultation with police: it needs to have, or be likely to have, a detrimental effect on the quality of life of those in the area; be persisent; and be unreasonable.

But Rachel Robinson, policy officer for Liberty says the orders are still “breathtakingly broad” that allow local councils to “restrict or ban activity it deems detrimental to the quality of life of those in the area – an incredibly subjective test.”

She told Channel 4 News: “This could mean blanket bans, covering any public place, of lawful behaviour – peaceful protest, busking or even children playing. They dangerously blur distinctions between crime and nuisance, fast tracking people into the criminal justice system.”

Banning boozing?

Photo: A voluntary curfew is imposed on the Close Hill estate in Redruth, England in 2002 to try and tackle anti-social behaviour

How a PSPO is interpreted is left up to the council handing down the order. For example in Leicester, the council is proposing a city-wide drinking ban which would be enforced through a PSPO while in Blackpool, one councillor reportedly suggested cracking down on dress of stag and hen parties.

This is why some people are concerned: the Green Party leader for Oxford, Sam Hollick, told the local paper: “These powers are too wide-ranging. The definition for what is antisocial is far too broad”.

In the Home Office guidance, the only restriction on alcohol in public places is in areas which are already licenced to serve alcohol – like a beer garden.

Any order from the council will be enforced by the police, or community officers, and can stay in place for up to three years. But anyone living in the area, or who is there regularly, can appeal the order in the high court within six weeks.

Dangerous Dogs

A Staffordshire bull terrier cross, shakes off sea water after a swim on Brighton beach

Controlling dangerous dogs is covered partly by the PSPO, for example stopping dogs from entering playgrounds, or restricting how many dogs could be taken through a public area by one person.

Other parts of the new bill also relate to controlling dangerous dogs, like civil injuntions, and trying to prevent thousands of dog attacks every year through a new community protection notice, or “dogbo”. This would force owners to either neuter their dog, make it wear a muzzle or go to training courses. And they face a £100 on-the-spot fine, rising to £20,000, if they refuse to comply.